Oxfam's Shelflife links goods with past using QR Codes
Oxfam is trying out a mobile phone scheme called Shelflife that lets customers find out the stories behind second-hand goods it sells.
A Shelflife phone app links stories and pictures provided by donors to tags attached to the goods.
Browsers in Oxfam shops can scan the tags using the app to find out about an individual item's past.
The charity believes it can sell things more easily when they have stories attached to them.
"Someone might donate a record and add that it was the song that they danced to at their wedding to its tag," said Oxfam's Emma Joy.
"We hope the pilot will prove that items with stories are more valuable and establish the monetary value of a story," she said.'Social museum'
Shelflife uses technology developed for a project called Tales of Things and Electronic Memory (Totem), a collaboration of academics at five UK universities. Totem has built a database of more than 6,000 objects which have been linked to their stories with tags.
Each Totem object has its own Twitter account, and tweets are sent out automatically to an object's "followers" every time its tag is scanned or new information is added to its story.
"We want to make every Oxfam shop into an interactive social museum," said Andrew Hudson-Smith, director of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London and a contributor to the Totem project.
"Second-hand goods are essentially meaningless, but when they are tagged we give them meaning," he said.
The Shelflife system uses QR Codes - black and white patterns designed to be read easily by mobile phones - printed on tags. The Totem project has supplied Oxfam with 10,000 tags with unique QR Codes for the Shelflife trial.
Oxfam customers use the Shelflife iPhone app - a similar Android app is in the works - to read the QR Codes and find out about an item or add to its history.
Oxfam is trying out Shelflife at 10 shops around Manchester, and the charity hopes to extend it to all of its shops if, as Oxfam expects, the pilot scheme shows that adding stories to them makes them more valuable.
Shelflife will also be used to add stories to new products that Oxfam sells in its shops.